Every now and then—in everyday life or on blogs—someone will decry any perceived blurring of gender lines and declare something along the lines of Men and women are different. Their minds are just hard-wired differently.
I have to say if that’s the case, you really shouldn’t have to declare or decry anything. If nature has limited us in terms of how we can stretch the boundaries of gender, let nature do its own work. If men and women are truly different and meant to be different, why do you have to keep telling us and reminding us that we’re different? Shouldn’t we just automatically be different?
Do I concede that in various aspects of life, men and women each have their own bell curves and the curves do not overlap precisely? Yes. Is all of that difference (between the center of one bell curve and the center of the next) due to a difference in “wiring”? No. Do I think that that means we should encourage the gender whose bell curve is to the right to exaggerate whatever’s being measured, and we should encourage the gender whose bell curve is slightly to the left to downplay whatever’s being measured? Definitely not.
Let’s take upper-body strength, for example. I think most people believe that men, on average, have stronger upper bodies than women. But does that mean all men have stronger upper bodies than all women? No. And yet people will say things like, “Women shouldn’t be firefighters because men have better upper body strength.” That’s absolutely ridiculous. Why don’t you just have an upper body strength prerequisite, then? If you do, it’s possible that most firefighters will be men, but why deny a bulked-up female the possibility of being a firefighter? This is about as silly as saying that women on the whole are better at working with children, so men should not be elementary school teachers. There are plenty of women who aren’t good at working with children, and then there are men who are great at working with children. And how much of this has to do with upbringing versus “hard-wiring” or “nature” is still debatable.
But even if we were to assume there were natural limitations on what people could do, why keep harping on those limitations? Let nature decide what the limit is. I’m naturally more inclined than your average person to eventually be diagnosed with diabetes. Does that mean I should just throw in the towel and become obese in the hopes of speeding up the process? Asians, on the whole, are generally shorter than Whites and Blacks. Does that mean Asians should withhold protein and other nutrients needed to grow in the hopes that they might exaggerate the shortness of Asians? Just because you have a natural tendency toward something doesn’t mean you should reinforce that tendency. In fact, in many cases, you should fight against it—your pride in achievement and sometimes even your morality depend on that fight.
In running, men have historically been faster than women. Some of the fastest high school boys milers run at the pace of some of the fastest Olympic athlete women milers. Does that mean women should give up running the mile? Would you conclude from that fact that women are meant to be slower than men and that women should just give up trying to be fast? Let’s put it another way. Let’s say you had a young daughter who had a strong interest in running and told you, “One day I’m going to run the mile in 3:43 seconds.” Would you tell her “That’s great, honey, but women just can’t run that fast”? Or would you tell her “It won’t be easy. No woman has ever done it, but if you train as hard as you can, I think you’ll be the one to do it”? Which response do you think will make her a better athlete in the end? I’m betting on the second response. If she’s not meant to run the mile in 3:43, that’s up to her body to decide, not you. And if you encourage rather than discourage her, even if she doesn’t end up running 3:43, she’s far more likely to run at least 4:12. The gender gap in running records has been steadily closing over the past few decades, and it’s probably being closed by women who are encouraged to run, not women constantly being reminded that men are faster than women.
So if you have a room full of 100 men and 100 women, and three of those men seem less-than-manly to you, and three of those women seem less-than-womanly to you; instead of telling those six people they need to be like the other 194 people, just let them be. If they face limitations in life from nature, it’s not your place to remind them of nature; nature itself will decide.
Or perhaps the fact that you feel the need to keep chanting “nature” and “hard-wired” shows a secret fear that nature isn’t really on your side. As Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” The biological determinists doth protest too much, methinks.